Deron Williams was feeling it. The game looked like it was almost coming effortlessly to him. "I hit the first couple shots and was feeling good so I kept letting it fly," said Williams. And let it fly he did, Williams poured in a career high 31 points by nailing a career high 5 three-pointers. It wasn't just the three's that made his night so special. Deron also drove to the hole and created offense for the team. And just when it looked like Wisconsin would make a run, Deron was there on defense to put and end to the Badger charge.
This game was nip and tuck for most of the 1st half. Illinois decided to start trapping more towards the end of the half and caused some turnovers to make a run. They went into the half with a 2 point lead. After halftime, Illinois tried to deliver a few blows to Wisconsin but the Badgers would not go away. Coach Bo Ryan's team is very fundamentally sound and was not about to get away from their game plan. After cutting an 8 point deficit to 1 with a little over 5 minutes to go in the game, the Badgers showed their resiliency. However, Wisconsin committed a few uncharacteristic turnovers and put the Illini to the line to seal the victory for Illinois, a 65-57 win that puts them right in the thick of the Big 10 regular season championship.
The Illinois defense was again swarming at times. They held Wisconsin to just 57 points and made the nations least turnover prone team commit 17 turnovers. Williams and Dee Brown each had 4 steals.
The night belonged to Deron Williams. "He shot it a lot better than he did at our place. The difference was him. He was the difference in the game," said coach Ryan. Illini coach Bruce Weber was very impressed with Williams display on the evening, but don't tell him he didn't see it coming. "He comes and dominates practice everyday. Now you come to the game and you have great habits and you play with that intensity and that's why he's successful," claimed Weber.
Weber had lots of good things to say about his team after this victory. The Illini have now won 4 games in a row and seem to be playing their best as the season goes on. "We've made some major strides since the last time we've played them, and it's obvious in our play. Our defensive intensity is drastically improved. I think we've become a very well rounded team. Overall we disrupted them and we made Harris work hard for his points," said Weber.
So have the Illini turned the corner? Can they now be considered a top 25 team? "There's a lot of teams that are better than us right now but we're getting better. The rankings that count are the ones at the end of the year," said star sophomore James Augustine who chipped in 9 points, 5 rebounds, a block, and 2 steals on the night.
I agree with Weber that Illinois has been much more impressive since the last game in Madison. Will this momentum carry over with them as they close out the regular season playing 4 out of 5 games on the road? That remains to be seen.
ILLINI GRADE REPORT:
Backcourt- Deron Williams plays the game of his life by putting in 31 points. Dee Brown leads the team in rebounding. Luther Head plays great defense for the most part on Devin Harris. I'd say they did real good.
Frontcourt- James Augustine and Roger Powell played good but not great. The defense on Mike Wilkinson was much improved. Nick Smith was a non factor in this one.
Bench- The 5 starters all played over 30 minutes in this one so the bench didn't have much of a chance. A few nice contributions from Brian Randle highlighted the bench play.
Overall- Another must win and the Illini come through. This team is really coming together at a good time and look focused. Coach Weber has his men fighting on defense which has been the turning point in the season.
- I thought the chants of "overrated" were unwarranted. Wisconsin is a very good team that should make a nice run in the NCAA tourney.
- It was great to see guys like Jerry Colangelo and Johnny "Red" Kerr at the game. I wonder how many times someone joked with Colangelo on funding a new arena.
-speaking of arenas, count me in as one who wants to see the Hall remain. I think the uniqueness of the building is something to be treasured. It could use a little facelift and that's probably what it's going to get.
-The "Orange Inferno" was amazing again tonight. Possibly even better than PTHO night against Michigan State. Kudos to the Krush and marketing departments and of course Illiniboard.com in keeping everyone aware of the need to wear orange to the game. The players are loving it.